NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Somalia’s government says the first group of 5,000 Somalis who were sent to Eritrea for military training has returned home, to the relief of parents who had alleged their sons had been recruited under false pretenses.
Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur on Wednesday confirmed the first group’s arrival in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, and said the rest will arrive in the coming days.
“They will be part of the ongoing fighting against (extremist group) al-Shabab in several regions of the country,” the minister said, referring to an offensive by Somali forces and allies against fighters who for years have held large parts of the country and regularly attacked the capital.
The minister did not say how many recruits returned home from the training in Eritrea, which the previous administration under former President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed initially kept secret. The recruits were first sent to Eritrea in 2019, but Mohamed acknowledged it only after his election defeat earlier this year.
Some parents feared their sons had been sent to neighboring Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region, where Eritrean forces were fighting alongside Ethiopian government forces against Tigray ones. Somalia’s government denied its troops had been used in combat.
One mother of a man who returned from Eritrea, Hawa Awale, told The Associated Press she was thankful to see him alive.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank Allah and President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who fulfilled his promise of bringing our sons home after being elected president. I am very honored to see my son decorated with the Somali army uniform and serving his country.”
When current president Mohamud visited the Somali soldiers in Eritrea in July and November, he promised they would soon return home.